In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, as we return from another hiatus, we look at the future of Marvel Studios.
Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, the Phase III slate Marvel Studios released in October went from “risky” to “can’t wait to see what they do with them.” Sprinkled in with five, sure fire sequels were four riskier projects. Four projects, like GotG, that had characters and concepts that the general public were not familiar with. Phase I & II were top loaded with characters that appeared in cartoons and films before. The only one of the for new Phase III films that had anything resembling that was Doctor Strange, a character that was adapted in a 1970s TV movie that has long settled into the dustbin of history. Furthermore, one of the films has a black protagonist, another a female one, both of which are seen as risky propositions for action films by some in Hollywood.
But Guardians of the Galaxy made it seem like Marvel could do no wrong. No matter how obscure the project, no matter how risky their choices were, nothing could stop them from generating smash hits. Every film they planned on doing became can’t miss prospects. Fans started vocalizing their wishes for other Marvel characters licensed to other studios return to the fold so they can be done right. That seemed a remote possibility at best, right up until the point it happened.
The historic agreement between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios pertaining to their sharing Spider-Man is often portrayed by media analysts as being mutually beneficial to both sides, but as I mentioned above, Marvel really doesn’t need any help. Conventional wisdom given was that Marvel was in desperate need of a big draw after the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films run their course. That conventional wisdom forgets that those characters weren’t big draws when the first hit, and if Marvel made successes out of them, they’ll make success with Black Panther,Captain Marvel and the Inhumans too.
Sony, however, went all in on Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the start of their Spidey-shared universe, top-loading the film with villains, with the full expectation that it would be a billion-dollar baby and keep the studio in Spider-man movies for the rest of the decade. When it’s grosses were only respectable and not phenomenal, the studio went into panic mode. Even though the franchise is not set for the third reboot in less than ten years, having Marvel come in on creative will keep Sony from having to figure out how to make their changes work and the cross promotion can never be bad.
But even though bringing Spider-Man back into the fold wasn’t needed by Marvel, it does make a bright future even brighter.
Marvel’s future will begin in just under two months, on May 1st, when Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters.
The film pits the Avengers against the iconic Marvel villain Ultron in order to save the Earth from total annihilation. Other classic Avenger characters such as Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver will be introduced in the film’s continuity. This film should make so much money that it would just make sense to keep Brink’s truck in theater lobbies to speed the money collection along.
And while Spidey is rumored to make his first appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, I have a feeling–and this is just a feeling–that the character will make an appearance in a tag scene attached to this film. Tag scenes do not have to take long to make, and while they are about 50-50 nowadays when it comes to setting up future films, what better way to tease the future than show Spidey looking at Avengers tower in a post-credits scene?
Later on this year, in July, we get Ant-Man, one of Marvel’s longest in-development properties and, it would turn out, one of its most troubled. Originally Edgar Wright’s baby, the writer/director left after he and Marvel could not agree on a direction for the film. Wright was replaced by Peyton Reed, and the film finally got a solid release date.
While I was firmly on Team Wright here, and really was looking forward to see how he would work in Marvel’s sandbox, the teaser trailer, which is essentially just a speech done by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), got me looking forward to Reed’s version. Although I will hold out final judgement until I see more from the film, it doesn’t look bad.
As for the rest of Marvel’s future that we know of goes as follows:
- May 6, 2016- Captain America: Civil War: The third Cap film might also be a fourth Iron Man film by proxy, as Robert Downey, Jr. has signed on to play the antagonist. One hopes that the film will not follow the comic book miniseries of the same name, because the comic was a heavy-handed yet poorly thought out piece of political commentary that only worked at all because the characters played against decades of characterization. This might will also introduce Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- November 4, 2016- Doctor Strange: Benedict Cumberbatch has been signed to star in Scott Derrickson’s film which will introduce the world of magic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- May 5, 2017- Guardians of the Galaxy 2: James Gunn and all of the principals return to hopefully answer some questions raised by the first film.
- July 28, 2017-Spider-Man: This will be distributed by Sony yet co-produced by Marvel’s Kevin Feige. It is currently in the ‘heavy rumor” period of development. All we know for sure is that the character will appear in a Marvel film before this film arrives.
- November 3, 2017-Thor:Ragnarok: This third Thor film might be the last, as those up on Norse mythology will know by the title. This film was moved from July to accommodate the Spidey film.
- May 4, 2018-Avengers: The Infinity War, Part 1: The first of two films that hopefully will finally set the team up against Thanos. No word if Joss Whedon will be coming back, and he has been vocal in his ambivalence to returning. Rumor has the Russo Brothers, who led Cap to his greatest success, might take the helm.
- July 6, 2018-Black Panther: Another film long in development will finally get its time in the sun. Chadwick Boseman will have at least one, but most likely two appearances in film continuity before this arrives in theaters, so he should have a pretty good head start. No director named as of yet.
- November 2, 2018-Captain Marvel: Marvel doesn’t have a lot of big female heroes. Captain Marvel comes close and even she got her start as a female version of a more popular male hero. The current incarnation of the character has a cult following amongst female comic book fans. Early rumors had her making an appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron as portrayed by Katee Sackhoff. Emily Blunt, Natalie Dormer and Jessica Chastain have also been named as potential candidates.
- May 3, 2019-Avengers: The Infinity War, Part 2: The second part of the Avengers vs. Thanos fight, and potentially the last time we’ll see Iron Man, Thor and Captain America on film for a while, or at least with the same actors playing them.
- July 12, 2019-The Inhumans: Announced as being in development at the same time Guardians of the Galaxy was, the film finally has a set release date. The lead up to this film has already begun, as a concept close to the comic book version of the property has been introduced this year into TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. That is a first and, quite frankly, something that should have been done with that TV show from day one. But, there is plenty of time before now and 2019 and there is no guarantee what we are seeing on TV will tie-in to this film.
And of course, there is still a lot of unanswered questions, some unanswered for quite a while, that we like to see answered. Such as:
- Will Black Widow ever get a film of her own? Will Hulk ever get another one?: The one I wanted to see happen after the first Avengers is for Hulk and Black Widow to have their own films. Those feelings came back in droves as I watched the trailer I posted above. There should be several films left on both Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo’s contracts with Marvel. Johansson is coming of Lucy, which opened at number one at the box office. Ruffalo is coming off an Oscar nomination. The time seems right for these movies to get made. Yet, as you can see above, we’re at least five years away from them getting made. This Hulk has distribution issues (any future film starring him will have to be distributed by Universal, not Disney, as per an iron clad prior agreement) but Widow should be on her way to theaters…eventually.
- Have we seen Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth’s replacements already?: As you might have heard, we are getting to the end of these actors’ original contracts. And while RDJ already added an extra film on to his contract and the fact that the last Avengers installment is in two installments might be an sign all of them are not willing to let this good thing end, there is a chance they might not all be coming back. Will Marvel Studios follow the James Bond paradigm and replace them with new actors, or will they take their cue from the comics? In the comics, James Rhodes replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man. Maybe Don Cheadle can replace RDJ as well? In the comics, both the Winter Soldier and Falcon became Captain America. Could Anthony Mackie or Sebastian Stan do the same in the film world? And the current Thor is a woman who may or may not be someone we’ve seen in the film continuity. But what if Loki replaced Thor on Marvel’s schedule. Fans have been clamoring for a Tom Hiddleston as Loki film. Give them one.
- Will we ever see a Runaways film? : This project has been in the works since 2008. One of Marvel’s greatest creations of the recent years, it supposedly has a killer treatment at Marvel. However, as the MCU began being lead by the Avengers films, there never seemed to be a place for it on the schedule. Phase IV seems to be a fresh start for the Marvel films. Maybe it will find purchase here?
- Is a similar arrangement like the one they have with Sony possible between Fox and Marvel?: The thought that Spider-Man would grace the same big screen as Iron Man and Captain America seemed like a pipe dream to fans as recent as last year. But it happened, in a deal that benefits all parties involved. Now fans want it all. However, Marvel does not have as good a relationship with Fox as it does with Sony. Add to that the X-Films are solidly successful for Fox, they aren’t quite as desperate for them as they were for Sony. A lot might change depending on the success of both the Sony/Marvel partnership and Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, if the former succeeds and the latter fails, Fox might change its mind. But don’t hold your breath.
- Will Marvel officially adapt a three film per year schedule?: As you can see above, Marvel has three films in 2017 (counting Spider-Man) and 2018. There is room in 2019 for another film as well. So has Marvel moved up to three films per year? It seems so, especially if Spider-Man’s new incarantion has the same success rate as his other incarnations. And about time. The market has shown to support these films, why not take advantage of that.
- What characters might be coming to the screen next?: Well, let’s try to take a look at some likely candidates. First, let’s start by looking at the films Marvel used for collateral to start their studio: Ant-Man, the Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Cloak and Dagger, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Power Pack, and, lastly, Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. The first five either already have been made into movies or have films announced. The other five have been passed over for Thor and Iron Man, whose rights weren’t with Marvel at the time the deal was made, and Captain Marvel, the Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy.
There has been a lot of talk of a Nick Fury film, but Samuel L. Jackson is four years away from hitting 70, so its not likely he’ll be playing the part come five years from now. If Jeremy Renner ever becomes the box office star he showed potential of being when he signed on as Hawkeye, a solo film for that character could happen. Cloak and Dagger was once up for an ABC Family TV show, but they could benefit greatly from the Sony deal. The characters debut in a Spider-Man comic book and provided a counterpoint to him in many ways. Power Pack is an interesting concept, but seems more fodder for an animated film along the lines of Big Hero 6 and not part of the MCU. And Shang Chi does have the sweeping epic aspect Marvel films look for, however, the martial arts heroes seem to be reserved for Netflix and his main nemesis is Fu Manchu, a character owned by its original creator’s estate.
As for characters Marvel got back, there is supposedly a Blade film in development. I’d assume that if Doctor Strange was a big hit, we’d see that character return to the screen. Same with Ghost Rider, who deserves a fresh start without Nicolas Cage. As for the Punisher, I’m afraid his time as a film star has passed.His next stop might be TV. And I’d doubt we’d see another Howard the Duck film, no matter how much buzz his GotG cameo generated.
And for characters who have not achieved film fame as of yet, well, that could anybody they have left.
Join us next time when we look at the film success of Mark Millar.